Jacob Heilbrunn

To the White House, Steve Clemons

Steve Clemons, the editor of the Washington Note, can leave behind a vertiginous feeling, as you try and follow his various activities, ranging from blogging to worldwide travel, from holding forth at his perch at the New American Foundation to holding salons at Restaurant Nora with Washington figures. One day he's arranging an open letter of bigwigs pushing the Obama administration to denounce Israeli settlements. The next day he's halfway around the world. On another he's hosting Grover Norquist or Zbigniew Brzezinski at a dinner. 

At the same time, a profusion of blogs is emanating from his website. Nobody does it better. So it all prompted former Council on Foreign Relations head Leslie Gelb to muse in the New York Times that if the White House is looking for a new social secretary, which it is, who better than Clemons?

Clearly the White House has been struggling with its previous picks. Desiree Rogers flamed out. Julianna Smoot never caught on fire in the first place. Now the word is that a man should be considered for the post as well, a real master, as opposed to mistress, of ceremonies. And, indeed, if Obama were serious about bipartisan outreach, he would consider appointing Clemons, who has deep connections among both Democrats and Republicans. 

The real post that Clemons might have snagged, however, was White House press secretary. Clemons, as I'm sure he would be the first to admit, likes to talk. But he also knows when not to. In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank notes that Jay Carney, the new press secretary, looks, at first sight, like a massive improvement over the dolorous Robert Gibbs, widely loathed by the press corps. But Carney, Milbank suggests, may be set up for failure. As a former reporter for Time, he's got to prove his cojones--that he hasn't been coopted by the press. He may prove as big a dud as Gibbs, or even bigger, in the end.

A move up to the White House would be good for Clemons. But would it be good for Washington? There will be no one who can replace the blur of activity that is Clemons. And the pundit class, not to mention Restaurant Nora, would sorely miss Clemons' salons, run at a far higher level than anything the White House has experienced in a long time. Meanwhile, Clemons has already added a new feather in his cap as editor-at-large of TalkingPointsMemo.

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